William J. Hughes, a 10-term Democratic congressman from New Jersey who went on to become U.S. ambassador to Panama, died Oct. 30 in Ocean City, N.J. He was 87.

His family announced the death but did not provide a cause.

Mr. Hughes was one of dozens of Democrats elected to the House in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and he served until his retirement in 1995. He was then appointed ambassador to Panama by President Bill Clinton and served in that role until 1998.

During his years in Congress, representing parts of southern New Jersey, he served on the House Judiciary Committee and chaired the subcommittee on crime. He was instrumental in passing legislation to ban fully automatic firearms.


At a 2018 speech at Galloway Township, N.J.-based Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a longtime family friend, referred to him as “a model of civility and statesmanship.”


William John Hughes was born in Salem, N.J., on Oct. 17, 1932. He graduated in 1955 from Rutgers University and in 1958 from its law school. He began practicing law in Ocean City and entered politics.

He served as assistant prosecutor for Cape May County, N.J., during the 1960s and made an unsuccessful congressional bid in 1970.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s research and development center outside Atlantic City was named after Mr. Hughes, in recognition of his efforts to keep the facility in southern New Jersey.

In 1956, he married the former Nancy Gibson, and they had four children. A list of survivors was not immediately available.

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